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BALDWIN: Some sword and sandal cinema to try

Greetings my fellow cinephile warriors of Winchester!

We live in strange times.

I suppose the world has always been weird, but instant media to gratify our inquiring minds, restless fingertips and curious eyes has never been so instant.

A hundred years from now, we will appear ancient to the humans that roam this wondrous landscape.

Our stories will hopefully live on, and with each day, our lives, feats and struggles may appear to be that of a myth.

Some days it can feel like we are at battles with our own wills, our environments and our circumstance. We have it better than we know, or at least we are not always aware of how good we have it.

Let’s jump into the cinematic time machine, go back into the past and take a brief glimpse into the lost and hard worlds in the action fantasy subgenre of sword and sandal films.

New to sword and sandal? This subgenre, which saw its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s here and in Italy, were set in ancient biblical or mythological times laden with muscular men, exotic beauties, heroic conquests packed with epic testosterone action and even sorcery at times.

“Ben-Hur” (1959) is the tale of Jewish prince, Charlton “The Omega Man” Heston, who seeks revenge after being betrayed by his Roman friend and sent into slavery. The film is world-renowned for the famous chariot race scene.

Kirk “The Vikings” Douglas portrays the lead in “Spartacus” (1960), who was raised as a slave, sold and trained to become an arena gladiator before leading a revolt against the establishment.

1963’s “Jason and the Argonauts” is the Greek mythology epic adventure of Jason, portrayed by Todd “Manhunt” Armstrong, who leads his shipmates on the Argo as they do battle with creatures, face trials of strength and resourcefulness and venture on a quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. This is a fun film showcasing the stop-motion creatures brought to life by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen’s talents were also on full display to please the eye while entertaining the brain with 1981’s “Clash of the Titans.” Harry “LA Law” Hamlin portrays Perseus, who sets out on a quest to save Princess Andromeda, and along the way, battles with Medusa and the Kraken.

“Conan the Barbarian” (1982) sees Arnold “Commando” Schwarzenegger being freed from slavery after becoming a fearless warrior seeking revenge for his parents against a savage warlord, Thulsa Doom, portrayed by James Earl “Darth Vader’s voice” Jones.

Released this day in 2000, “Gladiator” sees Russell “Noah” Crowe as a former Roman general seeking vengeance for the murder of his family and enslavement by vile emperor, Joaquin “Signs” Phoenix.

“300” (2006) is the stylish, musclebound, ultraviolent blockbuster battle of 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas, portrayed by Gerard “Angel Has Fallen” Butler, against the Persians in 480 B.C.

YouTube and streaming channels have a slew of titles for this genre ranging from A star studded Hollywood productions down to B-grade foreign titles for you to explore.

This day also marks the anniversary of the passing of bodybuilder sword-and-sandal star Steve “Hercules” Reeves. If you want to check out his flicks, I recommend “Hercules Unchained” (1959).

Yes, life can be rough. I know that after a month of quarantine, wearing masks and limited activities, some of you feel like you need to break out.

Life has always been rough. It’s what you do with what you have. Always remember to be thankful because somebody always has it worse than you.

At least we’re not fighting animals and gladiators in a coliseum or surviving our dangerous landscape because of gorgons and mythological beasts running amok. 

Sharpen your swords and have a film-tastic day!

Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker and film/music historian. He is president of the Winchester-Clark County Film Society. Find more from Rick on Facebook. He is on Twitter @rickbaldwin79  and can be reached by email at rickbaldwiniii@hotmail.com.